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Saturday , May 10 , 2014
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A Virat Kohli ‘math’ lesson for Asim in chase of Sougata

When an MIT-trained economist and a former physics professor are questioning each other’s math, it’s only natural that Virat Kohli will have a say in the dispute.

But first, it’s important to understand how far mathematics has captured centre-stage in the battle for Dum Dum.

Take the promise CPM candidate Asim Dasgupta made as early as March 16 to the girls of Ariadaha Sarba Mangala Balika Vidyalay.

“I love teaching mathematics. I’d be very happy to conduct a few classes for you after the polls,” says Dasgupta who, in his days as economics professor with Calcutta University, had a reputation for using rigorous mathematical models to explain growth theory.

For now, the ex-finance minister who solves dynamic programming sums for fun in his spare time, wants to “correct” his rival, Trinamul’s Sougata Roy, about the arithmetic of victory margins.

But complicating the poll equation are two more variables: BJP nominee Tapan Sikdar, who served in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ministry, and the Congress’s Dhananjoy Moitra.

Not that Dasgupta or Roy, the outgoing MP and a noted teacher of physics, would mind the challenge. Both say that mathematics was their favourite subject at their common alma mater, the erstwhile Presidency College.

‘Two-lakh’ boast

Asked about his chances, Roy takes a few more sips of tea (no milk, no sugar) at the multi-gym where he is relaxing after a rally in Khardah before rolling out reams of stats.

“We won all the seven Assembly seats in Dum Dum in 2011. Of the nine municipalities in the constituency, Trinamul controls seven. The Opposition holds not a single seat in the four gram panchayats,” Roy grins.

“Of the 10-odd colleges, all have Trinamul-backed students’ unions. The Opposition doesn’t exist here.”

Roy may have won Dum Dum five years ago with a modest margin of 20,000 votes but says that gap in support has gone up tenfold. Adding up all the Assembly results from Dum Dum in 2011, Trinamul received 2.08 lakh votes more than the Left.

He dismisses the BJP and the Congress. “It’s a two-way fight, whatever the media say,” declares the five-time MLA and twice MP, who entered Parliament the first time in 1977 and at 32 became a minister in the short-lived Charan Singh government.

Then the teacher in him emerges. Roy, who made a mark in Parliament with his cogent arguments, explains the arithmetic.

“The BJP got around 55,000 votes in 2009. Even if it gets double that number — and you take away another 50,000 votes as those of the Congress, with whom we had an alliance in 2009 — I still have a comfortable cushion.”

Virat & Modi

Dasgupta’s poll managers say there’s nothing wrong in Roy’s calculations — except that his data are “static”. In other words, he glosses over the possibility that voters’ preferences may have changed since the 2009 and 2011 elections and the subsequent civic and panchayat polls.

“Nine candidates are contesting from Dum Dum; then there’s the ‘none of the above’ (Nota) option, which means the voters have 10 options. Don’t you think there can be a split in votes?” asks a CPM veteran at the party office in Rathtala, off BT Road.

Then there’s what may be termed the “Kohli effect”, which has to do with looking at a target in an alternative — but mathematically equally valid — way to make it seem smaller and gain a psychological edge.

After leading India’s successful chase against South Africa in the recent World T20 semi-final, Kohli had explained he keeps his morale up by looking at the resources left in terms of overs, not balls. “One hundred in 10 overs sounds easier than 100 off 60 balls.”

So, while Trinamul leaders are considering only absolute numbers such as 2.08 lakh, the CPM is looking at vote percentages, which can make the gap look thinner because of the huge electorates in Lok Sabha seats.

Not too thin, though. If the gap was two percentage points in 2009, with the Left bagging 45 per cent votes and Trinamul 47 per cent, it widened to 19 in 2011 across Dum Dum, with the ruling party’s 57 battering the Left’s 38.

But the comrades say they are not out of the race. If Kohli alone can’t do it for them, a little help can always be expected from Narendra Modi.

In 2011, the BJP polled three per cent. Dasgupta’s campaign managers believe the figure can rise to 15-16 per cent because of the “Modi surge” and Sikdar’s pull as two-time MP.

“The BJP’s share is bound to rise by 12 to 13 per cent, and a significant part of that will come at the cost of Trinamul,” a CPM leader says.

“Then there’s another 5 or 6 per cent for the Congress. So, the difference of 19 percentage points exists only on paper. Even if we lose some votes to the BJP, we are very much in the reckoning.”

Sikdar, 70, is not one to sit with a calculator. He is moving around the constituency, ignoring age-related ailments, hoping to spring a surprise like he did in 1998 and 1999.

If the CPM is expecting a favour from him, it had perhaps been the other way round then. It’s been whispered that the late Subhas Chakraborty, then Marxist suzerain of North 24-Parganas, had paved Sikdar’s victory to send a message to Alimuddin Street.

“There’s a Modi wave and people have seen me perform. What else do I need?” Sikdar asks.

Roy laughs at such assertions. “If the BJP can find polling agents for half the 1,769 booths in Dum Dum, I shall withdraw from the race.”

Opposition parties have been complaining of intimidation of polling agents but Roy, a perfect gentleman, isn’t issuing threats. He is merely scoffing at the BJP’s lack of grassroots organisation.

Sikdar admits that finding polling agents has been a problem — partly because of fear — but claims the party has already picked agents for 75 per cent of the booths.

Can there be a problem mobilising voters on May 12? Prabir Chakraborty, a trader in Khardah, doesn’t think so. “There’s a strong BJP undercurrent. People will go on their own and vote for Modi.”

Booklet vs scandals

Even the Left accepts that unlike some other Trinamul MPs, Roy has been visible in the constituency. Roy is distributing a 42-page booklet detailing what he has done with his MP’s local area development funds.

Besides, as junior Union urban development ministry in 2009-2012, he used Urban Renewal Mission funds on various projects here, from building flyovers to providing piped drinking water.

But performance isn’t the key issue in this semi-urban constituency: it’s the scandals dogging the Trinamul government, and the Modi dream.

“People are aghast at the worsening law and order. At my roadshows, women have told me they want us to return,” Dasgupta says.

The Opposition is citing Mamata’s failure to attract investment and keep her 2011 promise of reopening closed units.

“Why has Texmaco turned sick? Why aren’t Jessop workers getting their dues? Why has Duckback downed shutters?” Dasgupta asks.

It seems ironic for a CPM leader to ask such questions, blamed as the Marxists are for the flight of capital from Bengal. But Trinamul’s failures in industry are bound to be another factor in the poll equations the economist and the physicist are trying to solve.

Dum Dum votes on May 12